The TTP has been demanding the reversal of the integration of erstwhile FATA but insiders believe that there is still a possibility to press for a political solution
here is an impression of a deadlock between the government of Pakistan and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the issue of the integration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but insiders believe that an atmosphere of understanding is being established by the Afghan government on this issue as well.
The Ministry of Interior in Kabul is in constant contact with the central leadership of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban believe that the merger of FATA has “adversely impacted the tribal system”. They say that important decisions in the FATA were made either in the light of shariah or according to local custom. This, they say, made for speedy justice and efficient governance. They say, the laws enforced in the newly-merged districts (NMDs) following the merger represent “slavery to the West” in “a contradiction of the tribal codes”.
They seem to overlook the fact that the Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) were a remnant of the British colonialism and there was very little regard for civil liberties.
Two political parties had raised their voices against the merger of FATA. One was the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the other Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl. Their reasons for the opposition were political. They had demanded that these districts be made a separate province. One of the arguments for the proposal was that this way the Pashtun population would have more seats in the Senate. On the other hand, there were administrative issues. Administratively, South Waziristan depends on Dera Ismail Khan, North Waziristan on Bannu, Kurram on Hangu, Orakzai on Kohat, Khyber and Momand on Peshawar and Bajaur on Dir. Because of this proximity, it was thought that the integration process would go smoothly if the new districts were made part of the KP.
The status of the Pak-Afghan border has also stabilised due to the change in the status of the FATA through the merger.
The government once refused responsibility for a crime committed more than a certain distance off the main roads. It was instead the collective responsibility of the tribes.
As executive heads of the Agencies, political agents exercised both administrative and judicial powers. Their decisions could not be challenged in any court. For this reason, the area was called the “law-less lands.”
The laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations came into existence in 1901, when the British Raj decided to establishing a buffer zone between Delhi and Kabul. These were the times when both London and Moscow had their strategic lenses fixed on Kabul. The Britons had made several attempts to invade Afghanistan and to get Kabul. These campaigns are known as Anglo-Afghan Wars. Eventually, the Durand Line was established as the frontier between Central Asia and South Asia. These border areas were brought under control following a series of battles. British administrative officers were then sent to administer these areas. The locals were assured their freedom to follow tribal customs, traditions and religious affairs. The British appointed and hired tribal elders called maliks and other influential people to maintain a strong grip on the region. Their purpose was to use these tribes to fight off any invaders from Central Asia (former USSR).
When Pakistan was established in 1947, the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah decided to leave these areas as they were. The political agents and the Pakistani bureaucracy took the reins from the British under a federal administration. Its administrative affairs were looked after by the Centre. When Russians invaded Afghanistan, the FATA turned into a base camp for Afghan resistance and other anti-Russia fighters. Training centres and strategic bases were built here.
The West revisited the region after 9/11. The US and its allies then started telling the world that Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban had fled Afghanistan to the FATA. Under immense global pressure, the Pakistan Army launched ground operations in these areas. On the other hand, US drones started carrying out attacks on specific targets, as a result of which the local Taliban movement and then the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan were born.
During the recent talks, the TTP has again tabled a demand for the reversal of integration. However, they have been told that it cannot be undone without the parliament’s approval. Sources close to the negotiations believe that it will take time but that the TTP will come round to agree with the parliamentary demands.
Meanwhile, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party and some section of the society, including lawyers and journalists, had started aggressive campaigns against the FCR. Article-40 of the FCR was highlighted as a black law. Under this article, both politics and journalism were “illegal in the FATA”. Hundreds of activists were jailed for joining the campaign. The result of these movements was the initiation of discussions on amendments to the FCR. These efforts gained momentum during the Musharraf era.
With the military operations and presence of global militant outfits, these areas turned into ‘no-go areas’. Many parts of these districts were directly or indirectly ruled by militants. This was the reason for the major army operations against these militants. The military, at last, took the areas. The TTP, consequently, shifted its bases to Afghanistan.
When the FATA was merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018, the first question was how to normalise the society. Huge fund allocations were announced to meet the development needs of the people. One of the biggest challenges was the land distribution. Land distribution in the area is not based on individual property rights but on the basis of collective tribal possession. Now, most of the newly-merged tribal districts are facing disputes and conflicts on account of land disputes. In the long term such disputes are resolved on the basis of land and revenue records. Thus, the civil courts face severe difficulties in dealing with these cases. This is partly the reason such matters are still being dealt with through traditional jirgas.
Furthermore, prevention and prosecution of crimes requires proper policing. Earlier, the tribal physical structure had consisted of PT, meaning political territory, and TT, which meant tribal territory. Under PT, the local administration was responsible for the actions that took place on main roads or a certain distance off these roads. The rest of the area was TT. Tribals living there were responsible for crime prevention. The administration had the right to fix the responsibility on an entire tribe. The political agent had the power to detain an entire clan or confiscate its property.
Now that laws have been extended to the newly merged districts, policing and the writ of the government are still an issue. There is a need for a huge infrastructure and enough police force to run the areas. Once these districts were merged, it became the government’s responsibility to initiate concrete steps for integration. Unfortunately, the government has shown a lack of interest and some issues have been left unattended. This has caused the inhabitants of these districts to distrust the government. Some of the elders and maliks in these areas have started agitation against the merger. Most of these tribal elders had been against reforms and integration from day one.
The recent changes in Afghanistan have had a direct impact on the annexed districts. The Tehreek-i-Taliban in Afghanistan has demanded that the FATA integration be reversed. The Pakistani Taliban apparently believe that after the withdrawal of the FATA merger decision, these areas will be safer for them. Obviously, in case of a withdrawal of the police and the abolition of the courts in these areas, such organisations will not face much resistance. Before these talks, a faction of the Taliban had asked that they be relocated to a tehsil in North Waziristan to lead a ‘free life’. The proposal was strongly opposed by the security agencies.
During the recent talks, the TTP has again tabled a demand for the reversal of integration. However, they have been told that it cannot be undone without the parliament’s approval. Sources close to the negotiations believe that it will take time but that the TTP will come round to agree with the parliamentary demands. Some members of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam are engaged in convincing the TTP leaders to cut a peace deal and wait for the parliament to reconsider the decision. Still, there are certain other threats to the peace process. People engaged in the peace process fear the presence of “spoilers”. As the TTP is a confederation of several outfits, there is a possibility of some of those not agreeing to the terms and conditions of a potential deal.
If the government leaves these areas without solving their administrative and judicial issues, this could potentially lead to another disaster in the border regions.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist,researcher and trainer on terrorism, conflict and peace development. He can be reached at frkakakhelgmail.com